Turning Back in the Day of Battle

When the going gets really tough, will we be able to stand or will we flee?

When the going gets really tough, will we be able to stand or will we flee?

One of the most influential pastors in my life over the last four years has been a man who preached in the 1800s in England. When I get to heaven, I will thank him. But today I thank God for him and how He graced the pastor with tremendous wisdom and a heart yearning for God.

His name is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. You can read every one of his sermons (that would take a very long time) at “The Spurgeon Center”. The link is https://www.spurgeon.org. He is referred to as “The Prince of Preachers” and there is no question that he followed Christ devoutly. I highly recommend him to you.

Four years ago I read one of his sermons titled “Turning Back in the Day of Battle” –https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/spurgeoncharles/sermons/0696.cfm

This particular sermon caused me to take a very hard look at my life. I could see where I turned back and did not stand firm. That is the title I’ve borrowed for this article and I hope Spurgeon doesn’t mind.

Before I speak about large battles, let me talk about small ones. We face small battles every day in which we can choose to act like Christ – or not. For example, you are driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour and a car almost runs into you. You swerve out of the way and notice they are texting at the wheel. Do you curse, letting your anger and frustration show? That would be the natural reaction. Been there, done that. It’s not easy controlling our emotions when we see people doing foolish, dangerous things that endanger other’s lives, especially our own. If you have your children in the car with you that makes it doubly hard. Yet, every time we have patience and act like Christ, we are allowing Him to work in our lives. We deny our self and are transformed into His likeness, in just a small way.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wrote:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:2

My personal belief is that God weaves lots of little battles in our lives to prepare us for the larger ones to come.

What are the bigger battles? Here are some examples:

  • You get fired from your job unfairly
  • You lose someone you love
  • Your spouse asks for a divorce or you decide the marriage is dead and ask them for a divorce
  • Someone tells you that believing in God is believing in a fairy tale
  • Someone at work dishonors your company and you are left to deal with the aftermath
  • The love your life cheats with your best friend
  • The doctor comes back into the room frowning at your x-ray

If we habitually allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, and we stand for our beliefs on a day by day basis, it transforms us and strengthens us.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
~ Romans 5:3-5

Spurgeon’s sermon, based on Psalm 78:9, centered around a group of men that were armed and carrying bows. Sounds like a formidable group and one that I might want at my back in a time of trouble. But the scripture tells us that they turned their backs, away from the battle. And it is very possible that they were armed and equipped with bows to protect the ark of the covenant! In regards to turning away from the battle, Spurgeon states “This, I am sorry to say, is not an unusual thing amongst professing Christians.”

Spurgeon goes on to look at all aspects of the encounter and raises some astonishing points about it that can directly apply to us in this day and age. He talks about bravery, especially about how brave some men act when the battle has not yet started, or when on holidays when the trumpets were sounding and all around are acting patriotic and proud.

We each have a purpose in God’s plan. Can we stand for Him, or will we be like Peter, his disciple, and say “I do not know Him!”?

Here is an excellent passage from Spurgeon’s sermon which seems to me to be relevant to any who want to make a difference:

“The soldier wants to distinguish himself; he wants to rise out of the ranks; he wants to be promoted. He hardly expects an opportunity of doing this in time of peace, but the officer rises when in time of war he leads a successful charge. And so it is with the Christian soldier. I make no advance while I am not fighting. I cannot win if I am not warring. My only opportunity for conquering is when I am fighting. If I run away when there is a chance of winning the crown, then I am like the ship that does not come out of harbor when there is a fair wind, or like the man who does not avail himself of the high tide to get his vessel over the bar at the harbor’s mouth. I cannot win without fighting, and therefore I thank God when the trial comes, and count it a joy when I fall into manifold temptations, because now I may add to my faith one virtue after another, till my Christian character is all complete. To throw away the time of conflict is to throw away the crown. Oh, simple heart! Oh, silly heart! to be afraid of suffering for Jesus! “

We should not be deceived by the pastors who preach the “Prosperity Gospel” such as Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. They are achieving their own prosperity by deceiving others in the name of Christ into giving them money. They will tell you that God’s plan is to make you rich and that you will have perfect health if only you do certain things (like giving them money). This life isn’t a bed of roses and you can’t “Name it and claim it!” as these people claim. There is a battle going on all around us each and every day.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:12

Going into battle isn’t comfortable. Recognizing that following Jesus Christ requires each of us to be willing to suffer isn’t comforting. What did Christ say about it?

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
~ Matthew 16:24-25

Let me close with a strong word of encouragement. I’ve never felt more joy in my life than when I’ve followed Christ. Let me encourage you to take a stand for God and not to turn back in the day of battle!

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Draw Near to God

Do you want to be close to God, or far away from Him?

Do you want to be close to God, or far away from Him? That’s an amazing question to ask, as some would wonder who could possibly want to be far from God? After all, God is good and why would we not want to be as close as possible to the Creator of the universe? Yet God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, told a parable that tells of a man deliberately walking away from his father. The parable is to help us understand ourselves, the nature of God and His relationship with us.

It is one of the most popular stories in the New Testament – the story of “The Prodigal Son”. You can find it in your Bible in the gospel of Luke, starting at Luke 15:11. The words are written in red, as these were the words of Jesus Christ. Let me paraphrase the story for the sake of brevity.

The younger of two sons comes to his father, asking for his share of his father’s estate and his father gives it to him. The young man proceeds on a journey to a distant country in which he squanders all the money. Then a famine hits the land and he becomes destitute. So he finds a job feeding swine. His hunger makes him realize the swine are eating better than he is, and his thoughts wander to home.

He decides to swallow his pride and go home, planning to apologize and ask his father if he can work for him. One of the key verses notes that “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” His father had not given up on him and was ever watching the horizon for his son’s return.

Instead of chastising his son for squandering his inheritance, the father puts his best robe on him and declares a celebration is in order. When the older, faithful brother is outraged at this treatment, the father said to him “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”

Remembering that Jesus is telling this parable to explain the nature of God, aren’t you glad that God has compassion and rejoices when we come back to Him? We are given all the good things in our life by God – every one of them. Yet, rather than be thankful and draw near to Him, seeking opportunities to repay Him for our gifts, we turn our backs and walk away.

I’ve walked away from God. It wasn’t a quick decision, but a drifting away over the years. It is fairly obvious that if you look at yourself, you aren’t looking at God. When things get really rough in this life, it is the very time that we should be drawing near to God. Yet we can start feeling sorry for ourselves and question the reality of God.

There is a saying that I like a lot: “You can give up on God, but He doesn’t give up on you.” As in the story of the prodigal son, God keeps watching the horizon. He is waiting for us to realize that this world is full of things that appeal to us, but they are things that will leave us empty and unfulfilled. We will come to a place where we hunger and thirst for His righteousness.

Another point on the story is that the father didn’t say “No!” to his son. Even though he knew his son was making a horrible mistake, he gave him the money and let him go. God treats us in the same manner. He has given us the free choice to rebel and to turn away from Him, knowing all the while that the lessons we will learn will be for our own good in the long run.

When I reached the place in my life where I wanted to return to God, it wasn’t because I was destitute. In fact, I was doing the very things I had dreamed of doing for many years. Kayaking, fishing, wildlife photography, the ocean. All the time. Every day. Sounds great to any man that loves the outdoors. It is just that those earthly things left me spiritually empty.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
~ Colossians 3:2

Venice, Florida, is on the gulf coast, south of Sarasota and north of Ft. Meyers. Beautiful beaches. Great fishing. Amazing wildlife photography areas, especially for birds. And a small Christian church, with a guest pastor whose sermon the day I walked in, was on James 4:8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” It became my prayer. “Lord, I draw near to You so that You will draw near to me.” The prodigal son had returned. He met me with open arms. And He will do that for you, should you drift away.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

What if? Avoiding the Trap of Guilt

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?  

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attacked Americans with our own commercial airplanes. They were part of al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. The result? The deaths of 2,996 innocent people with about 6,000 others injured. The terrorists also died that day and ultimately Osama bin Laden would be killed in retribution. There were huge financial damages and the event would change security procedures for planes and airports around the world. The families of 2,996 Americans mourned for their lost loved ones and they miss them still today.

The 9/11 Disaster, as it would be called, had other results. We would see the incredible bravery and selflessness of the first responders. We would see an American flag being raised by a group of them at Ground Zero later that day, thanks to a photograph by Thomas E. Franklin. We would hear of the passengers of Flight 93 attempting to subdue the terrorists on their flight and of one, Todd Beamer, saying “Let’s roll.”

On Sunday, four days after the attack, churches across America were full. It was a wake-up call to many people, realizing that they could die while sitting in an airplane or sitting at their desk at work. My family of five attended Scottsdale Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. The church was so full there were many in the lobby standing during the service. The Senior Pastor at the time was Darryl DelHousaye. He stood in front of a congregation of people shocked at what had occurred that week. Although I don’t recall his sermon after so many years, I do recall one statement he made. In his confident manner, with faith in God a cornerstone of his life, he stated the following:

“Many of you today are no doubt concerned about getting on an airplane any time soon. That’s understandable. I get that. But we know from God’s word in the Bible that our days are numbered and that God is in control. So if tomorrow is your day and you decide not to get on an airplane, you are just going to get hit by a bus.”

It was the humor we all needed and the congregation collectively laughed along with Darryl. Yet there was wisdom in what the Pastor had stated and I’ve told this story to many grieving people over the years. Why? Because when we lose a loved one we start looking to cast blame or guilt, and that often means we end up blaming ourselves and asking the dreaded “What if?” question.

Here are a few examples:

  • “What if we had taken her to a different doctor? She still might be alive today.”
  • “What if I had insisted he stay home from working at the World Trade Center that day? He wasn’t feeling well and I should have convinced him.”
  • “What if we wouldn’t have argued that night, would he still have committed suicide?”
  • “What if we didn’t allow our son to have a motorcycle? We should have told him more often to be aware of the potential for someone to pull out in front of him when he was on his bike?”

The last question was ours. Of course, we questioned whether we were to blame. It is normal. But it is also painful when we start blaming ourselves. Having heard that a relative made a comment that ‘they should never have allowed their son to buy a motorcycle’ didn’t bring any comfort to us in our grief. However, we saw multiple pieces of evidence of the Lord’s hand in the days leading up to his death and afterward. We believe that the Lord called Brian to his home with Him and that there was nothing we could have done to extend his life one day further. And we know that he was doing the one thing he enjoyed most in life, riding his motorcycle.

What does the word of God teach about this?

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”
~ Psalms 139:16

The Bible tells us that our days are ordained by God even before we are born. We encourage you not to blame yourself if you have lost a loved one. Even if there was something you believe you could have done that would have directly saved their life, recognize that God is the one who is actually in control and not you. He will bring you or your loved one home to Him when He pleases. He is God. He has that right. Yes, it hurts to lose someone out of our life. A lot. Losing a child, a spouse, a sibling, a loved relative is one of the hardest things you will endure. But God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through. We know that. He has done that for us.

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
~ Billy Graham.

Gifts From God

We are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of…

As I write this, and as you read this, we are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of. It is not material possessions that I refer to. How many things, for example, are in my possession simply allowing me to write my thoughts down and my words to reach you? Just a short list would have to include the following:

  • Language skills
  • The ability to type/write
  • Hands
  • Eyesight
  • Access to the Internet
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion

How often do we pause to consider how truly blessed we are? Using the word “blessed” implies that I have been given something. Think on each item in my short list above. Did I create any of those? Did I choose to be born and raised by a family living in the United States with the financial ability to provide me with an education? Did I fight for the right to freely express my opinion?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that every good thing I have now, or have ever had in my entire life, has been a gift from God. Even if I “earned” things, my very ability to earn them was due to prior gifts from God. Is that biblical?

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

~ James 1:17

How thankful should I be? A loving wife, three children, parents who loved me all their lives, a caring sister, friends, church, good health, an amazing dog named Baxter, on and on and on. I could literally go on for hours. But so could you!

How long is your list of things to be thankful for? Your life may be extremely difficult. You may have cancer. Your parents may have been cruel to you. Your spouse may have passed away recently. You may live in a country ruled by a dictator with oppression all around you. Yet, can you not still be thankful for many, many things?

Here is a thought to ponder: If you only would have things in your life tomorrow that you thanked God for today, what things would you start thanking Him for right now? I’ll pause here and give you the rest of the day to put your list together.

May God bless you richly! May we all recognize the many gifts we have been given and be thankful.

Your comments and thoughts would be welcome and we thank you for them in advance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Thirst No More

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. ~ John 4:24

“We live in a country divided.” Does that make you think of political ideologies? That would be a normal reaction. Or perhaps you are thinking of racial divisions – the color of our skin or ethnicity. That is unfortunately often true as well. “We live in a world divided.” Broadening the statement, has your viewpoint about the division shifted?

My subject here is actually not a division you can see. But then you can’t see ideological division either. It is only judged by what one says and does, and even that is subjective to the viewer and will change over time. Yet the division I am writing about is the division between the spiritual world and the material world. This division is probably not one most people think of in regards to our country or our world being divided. Yet there are vast numbers of people that deny there is even such a thing as a spiritual world. They may be living with you in your home. They are certainly living in your neighborhood, your state, your country and throughout the entire world. To them, for example, there can be no God, unless they want to perhaps deify a man such as Julius Caesar or a sports star. To them, if it can’t be seen, or felt, or measured, or explained in some material way, it must be a fantasy and thus should be scoffed at or even condemned.

Why then are we not all so disposed to scoff at the concept of a spiritual world? Why do billions of people believe so devoutly that a spiritual world exists?

Consider this scripture from the New Testament in the Bible:

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
~ John 4:24

Jesus uttered those words as he was speaking to a woman of Samaria who had come to a well to draw water. She sought the material. The Son of God stood there waiting to offer her something far more valuable. She couldn’t recognize that fact.

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
~ John 4:13

She must have smirked at those words from this stranger at the well. Perhaps she thought he might be a magician and thus she asked for some of this magical water, so she would never thirst again or have to walk all the way to this well to draw water. It was quite a ways to walk and her feet were sore and, well, you get the picture. She could not see, nor comprehend, that the man she was talking with was God in the flesh. Would I have known? Would you?

Ask yourself the hard question. Do you believe that all there is in this world is what you can see, taste, smell or measure? Are angels just wild fantasies of deluded men? Is God just a crutch that weak men have created to give themselves hope in a better future, an eternal life, a reason for existence? Do you believe that we are all just evolved pond scum of some sort that was born in primordial seas by lighting, meteors and millions of years of random chance? Give pond scum enough time I suppose, and it will be able to create symphonies or fly to Mars.

There are a lot of decisions we really don’t need to make in life. Such as which team to root for in a football game. But what if you decide there is no spiritual world and you are wrong? Doesn’t this seem like a decision you need to reach at some point in your life? Hopefully, before you pass from this material world into the, um, spiritual world…

My wife and I believe in Jesus Christ. We believe he is the Son of God and that he died on a cross 2,000 years ago. We believe due to many reasons. You will hear about many of those in future posts on “The Weaver’s Hand.”

Photograph by John J O’Leary